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The Story Of The Rome, Watertown, And Ogdensburg RailRoad Part 10

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It touched that system at three points only--but they were important points. It was a slightly longer route into Watertown from the New York Central's main stem, but considerably shorter to both Philadelphia--where it crossed the R. W. & O. at a precise right-angle--and Ogdensburgh. At the first of these two last towns it developed an irritating habit of holding its trains until the Rome road train had come, in hopes of luring Ogdensburgh passengers away from it and getting them in to their destination at an earlier hour than they had hoped. Several times it was suggested that the roads pool their interests and work in harmony. For one reason or another this was accomplished but once--the R. W. & O.

management almost always opposed such plans. It apparently preferred to play the lone hand.

The Utica & Black River had a very considerable tourist advantage in reaching the St. Lawrence River at Clayton, in the very heart of the Thousand Island district, instead of at Cape Vincent, which was rather remote from the large hotel and cottage sections. It established its own boat connections with the _John Thorn_, as the flagship of its fleet.

John Thorn's name and personality were again reflected in a fine coal-burning, Schenectady-built locomotive, which also bore his name (the U. & B. R. in those days had a decided penchant for the engines that the Ellises were building at Schenectady). Its motive-power was almost always in the pink of condition, brightly painted like its cars, which bore the same shade of yellow upon their sides that had been borrowed from the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern. Like the R. W. & O., the locomotives were all named. In addition to the _John Thorn_, there were the _Isaac Maynard_, the _DeWitt C. West_ (named after a resident of Lowville, who was an early president of the road), the _Theodore Faxton_, the _Fred S. Easton_, the _Charles Millar_, the _John Butterfield_, the _J. F. Maynard_, the _Ludlow Patton_, the _A. G. Brower_, the _Lewis Lawrence_, the _D. B. Goodwin_, and others too. The road at the end of the seventies had a fleet of about twenty locomotives.

There was one time, at least, when the upkeep of the motive power suffered a real shock. I am referring to the noisy way in which the road entered Watertown, by the explosion of the locomotive _Charles Millar_, No. 4, near the Mill Street crossing there on May 9, 1872. It was one of the few accidents, however, in the entire history of the Utica & Black River.



Augustus Unser, better known as "Gus" Unser, of Watertown was at that time engineer of the _Millar_, which was one of the earliest wood-burners that the road ever possessed--it did not begin the installation of coal grates until 1874. Unser was standing in the cab at the moment of the explosion, talking to Jacob H. Herman--better known as "Jake" Herman--who was at that time conductor on the Rome road.

Without the slightest warning came the explosion. There was a terrific roar and a crash, followed by a rain of small engine parts over a goodly portion of Watertown. Fortunately neither Unser nor Herman were seriously injured. An investigation into the cause of the wreck, which tore the _Millar_ into an unrecognizable mass of metal, failed to develop the cause of the accident. It was generally supposed, however, that the engine-crew had permitted the water in the boiler to fall below the level of the crown-sheet.

Back of the highly developed and independent Utica & Black River of a decade later there stood a pretty well developed human organization. John Thorn was its President; the head and front of its aggressive and alert policy. The full official roster was, in 1882:

_President_, JOHN THORN, Utica _Vice-Pres. and Gen'l Man'g'r_, J. F. MAYNARD, Utica _Treasurer_, ISAAC MAYNARD, Utica _Secretary_, W. E. HOPKINS, Utica _Gen'l Supt._, E. A. VAN HORNE, Utica _Asst. Supt._, H. W. HAMMOND, Utica _Gen. Pass. and Fgt. Agent_, THEO. BUTTERFIELD, Utica

_Directors_

Robt. L. Kennedy, New York John Thorn, Utica Abijah J. Williams, Utica Isaac Maynard, Utica Lewis Lawrence, Utica William J. Bacon, Utica Edmund A. Graham, Utica Theodore S. Sayre, Utica Abram G. Brower, Utica Russell Wheeler, Utica J. F. Maynard, Utica Daniel B. Goodwin, Waterville Fred S. Easton, Lowville

The final thrust of the Utica & Black River into the sides of its older competitor, whilst that competitor was still in the anguish of the Sloan administration of its affairs, came in the ferry row up at Ogdensburgh. By 1880 the once-brisk lake trade of that port had fallen to low levels. The fourteen-foot locks of the Welland Canal, between Lakes Ontario and Erie had failed utterly to keep pace with the development of carriers upon the upper Lakes. The steamers that still came to the elaborate piers of the old Northern Railroad at Ogdensburgh--for many years now, the Ogdensburgh & Lake Champlain--were comparatively small and infrequent. Buffalo was a more popular and a more accessible port. And yet the time had been when the Northern Railroad had had a daily service between Chicago and Ogdensburgh; some fifteen staunch steamers in its fleet.

One most important form of water-borne traffic has always remained at Ogdensburgh, however; the ferry route across the St. Lawrence to Prescott upon the Canadian shore just opposite. Prescott is not only upon the old main line of the Grand Trunk Railway but also has a direct railroad connection with Ottawa by a branch of the Canadian Pacific (formerly the Ottawa and St. Lawrence). The original boat upon this route was a small three-car craft, the _Transit_, which was owned in Prescott. In the mid-seventies this steamer was supplanted by the staunch steam car-ferry, _William Armstrong_, whose whistle was reputed to be the loudest and the most awful thing ever heard on inland waters anywhere. The _Armstrong_ speedily became one of the fixtures of Ogdensburgh. Twice she sank, under excessive loading, and twice she was again raised and replaced in service.

In 1919 she was sold to a firm of contractors at Trenton, Ont., and she is still in use as a drill-boat in the vicinity of that village. The important ferry at Ogdensburgh still continues, however, under the direction of Edward Dillingham, for many years the Rome road's agent in that city.

To compete with the service that the _Armstrong_ rendered the R. W. & O.

at Ogdensburgh, the Utica & Black River along about 1880 put a car-float and tug into a hastily contrived ferry between its station grounds at Morristown, eleven miles up the river from Ogdensburgh and the small Canadian city of Brockville just opposite. Into Brockville came the Canadian Pacific, beginning to feel its oats and pushing its rails rapidly westward each month. That was a better connection than the somewhat longer one of the St. Lawrence & Ottawa, and gradually freight began deserting the old ferry for this new one; with the result that within a year the _Armstrong_ was moved up the river to the Morristown-Brockville crossing, and Ogdensburgh gnashed its teeth in its despair. It appealed to the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh for relief in the situation.

That road was in its most important change of management--the succession of the Parsons' administration to that of Samuel Sloan. Charles Parsons had had his eye upon the Utica & Black River for some time. It was a potential factor of danger within his territory. Suppose that the Vanderbilts should come along and purchase it? That nearly happened twice in the early eighties. There was strong New York Central sympathy and interest in the U. & B. R. It showed itself in an increase of traffic agreements and cooperative working arrangements. The Rome road tried to offset this strengthening alliance of the Utica & Black River by making closer working agreements with the New York, Ontario & Western, which it touched at Rome, at Central Square and at Oswego. But the O. & W. with its wobbly line down over the hills to New York was a far different proposition than the straight main line and the easy grades of the New York Central. It is possible that had the West Shore, which was completed through from New York to Buffalo in the summer of 1883, been successful, it might eventually have succeeded in absorbing the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh; in which case the New York Central certainly would have taken the Utica & Black River, and the competitive system of railroading been assured to the North Country for many years to come. But that possibility was a slight one. The disastrous collapse of the West Shore soon ended it.

Yet the Utica road was a constant menace to Charles Parsons. No one knew it better than he. And because he knew, he reached out and absorbed it; within three years of the day that he had first acquired the R. W. & O. He not only guaranteed the $2,100,000 of outstanding U. & B. R. bonds and seven per cent annually upon a $2,100,000 capitalization, but, in order to make assurance doubly sure, he purchased a majority interest of $1,200,000 of Utica & Black River shares and turned them into the steadily strengthening treasury of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh. The Utica road formally passed into the hands of the Rome road on April 15, 1886.

The mere announcement of the transfer was a stunning blow to the North Country.

Now Parsons had a real railroad indeed; more than six hundred miles of line--the Utica road had brought him 180 miles of main line track. Now he had over eighty locomotives and an adequate supply of other rolling stock.

From the U. & B. R. he received twenty-four locomotives, of a size and type excellent for that day, twenty-six passenger-cars, fourteen baggage-cars and 361 freight cars. But, best of all, he was now kingpin in Northern New York. There was none to dispute his authority, unless you were to regard the tottering Ogdensburgh & Lake Champlain as a real competitor. He was king in a real kingdom. The only prospect that even threatened his monopoly was that the Vanderbilts might sometime take it into their heads to build North into the valleys of the Black River and the St. Lawrence. But that was not likely--not for the moment at any rate.

They were too occupied just then in counting the costs of the terrific, even though successful, battle in which they had smashed the West Shore into pulp, to be ready for immediate further adventures. If they should come to war seven or eight years later, Parsons would be ready for them.

In the meantime he set out to reorganize and perfect his merged property.

He wanted once again to make the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh the best run railroad in the state of New York. And in this he all but completely succeeded.

CHAPTER IX

THE BRISK PARSONS' REGIME

With the Black River thoroughly merged into his Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh, Parsons began the extremely difficult job of the merging of the personnel of the two lines. Britton, quite naturally, was not to be disturbed. On the contrary, his authority was to be very greatly increased. The U. & B. R. operating forces gave way to his domination. On the other hand, Theodore Butterfield, who was recognized as a traffic man of unusual astuteness and experience, was brought from Utica to Oswego and made General Passenger Agent of the combined property. The shops were merged. Most of the sixty-five workers of the Utica shop were also moved to Oswego; it was retained only for the very lightest sort of repairs.

As soon as the arrangements could be made, the U. & B. R. passenger trains were brought into the R. W. & O. stations at both Watertown and Ogdensburgh; while the time-tables of the combined road were readjusted so as to make Philadelphia, where the two former competing, main lines crossed one another at right angles, a general point of traffic interchange, similar to Richland. Cape Vincent lost, almost in a single hour, the large railroad prestige that it had held for thirty-three long years. To bind it more closely with the Thousand Island resorts, the swift, new steamer, _St. Lawrence_, had been built at Clayton in the summer of 1883, and at once crowned Queen of the River. Now the _St.

Lawrence_ was used in the Clayton-Alexandria Bay service exclusively. For a number of years service was maintained intermittently between the Cape and Alexandria Bay by a small steamer--generally the _J. F. Maynard_--but after a time even this was abandoned. Until the coming of the motor-car and improved state highways, Cape Vincent was all but marooned from the busier portions of the river.

Clayton gradually was developed into a river gateway of importance. The Golden Age of the Thousand Islands, during the season of huge summer traffic--which lasted for nearly two decades--did not really begin until about 1890. Yet by the mid-eighties it was beginning to blossom forth. The Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh of that decade knew the value of advertising. It adopted the four-leaved clover as its emblem--the long stem served very well to carry the attenuated line that ran West from Oswego to Rochester and to Niagara Falls--and made it a famous trade-mark over the entire face of the land. It was emblazoned upon the sides of all its freight-cars. Theodore E. Butterfield, the General Passenger Agent, devised this interesting emblem for it. It was he who also chose the French word, _bonheur_, for the clover stem. It was, as subsequent events proved, a most fortuitous choice.

Charles Parsons, having merged the two important railroads of Northern New York, was now engaged in rounding out his system as a complete and well-contained unit. For more than a decade the Lake Ontario Shore extension of the R. W. & O. had passed close to the city of Rochester through the then village of Charlotte (now a ward of an enlarged Rochester), and had touched that city only through indifferent connections from Charlotte. Parsons, at Britton's suggestion, decided that the road must have a direct entrance into Rochester; which already was beginning its abounding and wonderful growth. The two men found their opportunity in a small and sickly suburban railroad which ran down the east bank of the Genesee from the northern limits of the city and over which there ran from time to time a small train, propelled by an extremely small locomotive.

They easily acquired that road and gradually pushed it well into the heart of the city; to a passenger and freight terminal in State Street, not far from the famed Four Corners. To reach this terminal--upon the West Side of the town--it was necessary to build a very high and tenuous bridge over the deep gorge of the Genesee. This took nearly a year to construct.

Injunction proceedings had been brought against the construction of the R.

W. & O. into the heart of the city of Rochester. Yet, under the laws of that time, these were ineffective upon the Sabbath day. Parsons took advantage of this technical defect in the statutes, and on a Sabbath day he successfully brought his railroad into its largest city.

In the meantime a fine, old-fashioned, brick residence in State Street had been acquired for a Rochester passenger terminal. To make this building serve as a passenger-station, and be in proper relation to the tracks, it was necessary to change its position upon the tract of land that it occupied. This was successfully done, and, I believe, was the record feat at that time for the moving of a large, brick building. The bridge was completed and the station opened for the regular use of passenger trains in the fall of 1887.

At the same time that the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh was slipping so stealthily into Rochester, it was building two other extensions; neither of them of great length, but each of them of a considerable importance.

Away back in 1872 it had leased the Syracuse, Phoenix & New York--a proposed competing line against the Lackawanna between Oswego and Syracuse, which had been organized two or three years before--but the project had been permitted to lie dormant. First it lacked the necessary funds and then Samuel Sloan, quite naturally, could have no enthusiasm over it. Parsons had no compunctions of that sort. The more he could dig into Sloan the better he seemed to like it. Moreover the Syracuse, Phoenix & New York involved very little actual track construction; only some seventeen miles of track from Woodward's to Fulton, which was very little for a thirty-seven mile line. From Woodward's into Syracuse it would use the R. W. & O.'s own rails, put in long before, as the Syracuse Northern, whilst from Fulton into Oswego the Ontario & Western was most glad to sell trackage rights.

The seventeen-mile link was easily laid down; a sort of local summer resort was created at Three River Point upon it, and five passenger trains a day, in each direction, began service over it, between Syracuse and Oswego in the early spring of 1886. In that same summer another extension was also being builded; at the extreme northeastern corner of the property. The Grand Trunk Railway had built a line with very direct and short-distance Montreal connections, down across the international boundary to Massena Springs, in St. Lawrence County--then a spa of considerable repute, but destined to become a few years later, with the development of the St. Lawrence water-power, an industrial community of great standing in the North Country, second only to Watertown in size and importance. To reach this new line, the R. W. & O. put down thirteen miles of track from its long established terminus at Norwood, and moved that terminal to Massena Springs. The right-of-way for the line was entirely donated by the adjoining property-holders. For a time it was thought that an important through route would be created through this new gateway, which was opened in March, 1886, but somehow the traffic failed to materialize. And to this day a rail journey from Watertown to Montreal remains a portentous and a fearful thing. Yet the two cities are only about 175 miles apart.

Parsons was, in heart and essence, a master of the strategy of railroad traffic, as well as of railroad construction. Whilst he was making the important link between Norwood and the Grand Trunk terminus at Massena Springs, but thirteen miles distant, he was coquetting with the Central Vermont--in one of its repeated stages of reorganization--for the better development of its lines in connection with the Boston & Maine and the Maine Central through to the Atlantic at Portland. In all of this he was assisted by his two most capable assistants, E. M. Moore, General Freight Agent, and Mr. Butterfield, the General Passenger Agent. Mr. Butterfield we have already seen. He took very good care of the travel necessities of the property. Mr. Moore had been with it for many years. He, too, was a seasoned traffic man. More than this he was a maker of traffic men; from his office came at least two experts in this specialty of railroad salesmanship--H. D. Carter, who rose eventually to be Freight Traffic Manager of the New York Central Lines, and Frank L. Wilson, who is to-day their Division Freight and Passenger Agent at Watertown. Mr. Wilson bears the distinction of being the only officer on the property in the North Country who also was an officer of the old Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh.

He started his service in Watertown as a messenger-boy for the Dominion Telegraph Company when its office was located in the old Hanford store at the entrance of the Paddock Arcade. Later he began his railroad service with the R. W. & O. as operator at Limerick Station. From that time forward his rise was steady and constant.

I have digressed once again. We left Parsons strengthening a through line from Suspension Bridge to Portland, Maine, through Northern New York and across the White Mountains. As an earnest of his interest in this route he established, almost as soon as he had acquired control of the Rome road, the once-famous White Mountain Express. In an earlier chapter we have seen how the local Watertown management of the road had, some years before, set up a through sleeping-car service in the summers between Watertown and Fabyan's; using its fine old cars, the _Ontario_ and the _St. Lawrence_ for this service.

The White Mountain Express of the Parsons' regime was a far different thing from a mere sleeping-car service. It was a genuine through-train, with Wagner sleeping-cars all the way from Chicago to Portland. It passed over the rails of the R. W. & O. almost entirely by night; and because of the high speed set for it over so many miles of congested single-track, the older engineers refused to run it. The younger men took the gambling chance with it. And while they expected to run off the miserable track that Samuel Sloan had left for Parsons, and which could not be rebuilded in a day or a week or a month or a year, they managed fairly well, although there were one or two times when the accidents to this train were serious affairs indeed.

There comes to my mind even now the dim memories of that nasty wreck at the very beginning of the Parsons' overlordship, when the east-bound White Mountain, traveling at fifty miles an hour, came a terrible cropper at Carlyon (now known as Ashwood), thirty miles west of Charlotte. It was on the evening of the 27th of July, 1883, barely six weeks after Parsons and Britton had taken the management of the road into their hands. The White Mountain, in charge of Conductor E. Garrison, had left Niagara Falls, very heavily laden, and twenty minutes late, at 7:30 p. m., hauled by two of the road's best locomotives. It consisted of a baggage-car, a day-coach and nine sleepers; six of these Wagners, and the other three the company's own cars, the _Ontario_, the _St. Lawrence_ and the _DeKalb_.

A fearful wind blowing off the lake had dislodged a recreant box-car from the facing-point siding there at Carlyon and had sent it trundling down toward the oncoming express. In the driving rain the train thrust its nose right into the clumsy thing. Derailment followed. The leading engine, upon which Train Despatcher and Assistant Superintendent W. H. Chauncey was riding, was thrown into the ditch at one side of the track, and the trailing engine into the ditch at the other. Its engineer and fireman were killed instantly. The wreckage piled high. It caught fire and it was with extreme difficulty that the flames were extinguished. In that memorable calamity seventeen lives were lost and forty persons seriously injured.

Yet out of it came a definite blessing. Up to that time the air-brake had never been used upon the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh. The Carlyon accident forced its adoption.

I have no mind to linger on the details of disasters such as this; or of the one at Forest Lawn a little later when a suburban passenger-train bound into Rochester was in a fearful rear-end collision with the delayed west-bound White Mountain and more lives were sacrificed. The Rome road, as a rule, had a fairly clean record on wrecks, on disastrous ones at any rate. There was in 1887 a wretched rear-end collision just opposite the passenger depot at Canton, which cost two or three lives and made Conductor Omar A. Hine decide that he had had quite enough of active railroading. And shortly before this there had been a more fortunate, yet decidedly embarrassing affair down on the old Black River near Glenfield; the breaking of a side-rod upon a locomotive which killed the engineer and seriously delayed a distinguished passenger on his way to the Thousand Islands--Grover Cleveland, then President of the United States, was taking his bride for a little outing upon the shores of the St. Lawrence River. A few years later Theodore Roosevelt, in the same post, was to ride up over that nice picturesque stretch of line. Yet was to see far less of it than his predecessor had seen. At Utica he had accepted with avidity the Superintendent's invitation to ride in the engine-cab of his special. He swung himself quickly up into it. Then reached into his pocket, produced a small leather-bound book and had a bully time--reading all the way to Watertown.

One more wreck invites our attention, and then we are done with this forever grewsome side of railroading: This last a spectacular affair, if you please, more so even than that dire business back to Carlyon. The Barnum & Bailey circus was a pretty regular annual visitor to Northern New York in those days. It began coming in 1873 and for more than a quarter of a century thereafter it hardly missed a season--generally playing Oswego (where once the tent blew down, during the afternoon performance, and there was a genuine panic), Watertown and Ogdensburgh. In this particular summer week, the show had gone from Watertown to Gouverneur, where it violated its tradition and abandoned the evening performance in order that it might promptly entrain for the long haul to Montreal where it was due to play upon the morrow.

Going down the steep grade at Clark's Crossing, two miles east of Potsdam, the axle of one of the elephant cars, in one of the sections, broke and the train piled up behind it--a fearful and a curious mass of wreckage.

Fortunately the sacrifice of human life was not a feature of this accident. But the loss of animal life was very heavy. Valuable riding horses, trained beasts and many rare and curious animals were killed. Into the annals of Northern New York it all went as a wonderful night. In the glare of great bonfires men and women from many climes and in curious garb stalked solemnly around and whispered alarmedly in tongues strange indeed to Potsdam and its vicinage. Giraffes and elephants and sacred cows found refuge in Mr. Clark's barn. Outside long trenches were dug for the burial of the wreck victims. John O'Sullivan, for forty years station agent at Potsdam, and now resting honorably from his labors, says that it was the worst day that he ever put in.

It was at this wreck that Ben Batchelder, whose name brings many memories to every old R. W. & O. man, finding that his wrecking equipment was entirely inadequate for clearing the miniature mountain range of debris that ran along the track, put the Barnum & Bailey elephants at work clearing it. Under the charge of their keepers these alien animals pulled on huge chains and long ropes and slowly cleared the iron. Yet it was not until late in the afternoon of the following day that the track was fully restored and usable. By that time the children of Montreal had been robbed of that which was their right. And Charles Parsons, in New York, was remarking to his son, that perhaps, a fleet of well-trained elephants would make a good addition to a wrecking crew.

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